Burma drops ban on DVB journalists

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THURSDAY, 01 MARCH 2012

Exiled reporters working for the Democratic Voice of Burma will be granted visas to carry out assignments inside the country for the first time since the organisation was founded nearly two decades ago.

Long a target of intimidation and punishment by the Burmese regime, DVB has been forced to operate from offices based in Norway, Thailand and India. Staff who travel to the country have risked lengthy prison sentences, while its network of in-country journalists have carried out their work underground.

But Information Minister Kyaw Hsan has said that criminalisation of the exiled media group will begin to ease, starting with permission for staff living outside of the country to enter on five-day journalist visa.

DVB chief editor Aye Chan Naing on Wednesday met with Kyaw Hsan in the capital Naypyidaw. The DVB co-founder’s five-day trip, which ends tomorrow, is the first time he has visited Burma since fleeing in the wake of the 1988 uprising.

“The [information]minister agrees for our reporters to come and collect news officially,” Aye Chan Naing said on the phone from Rangoon. “And that one reporter of ours will come regularly and for the reporter to apply [for a visa]and to go through the regular process.”

While domestic reporters remain at risk of punishment, Kyaw Hsan said the government will “consider as soon as possible” the legal status of the media organisation, which would include ending criminalisation of all reporters and allowing DVB to set up a bureau inside the country.

Aye Chan Naing is also due to meet with the head of Burma’s notorious censor board, Tint Swe, and presidential advisor Nay Zin Latt before he leaves on Friday. He said that DVB is considered “an essential news department” among the officials and media figures he spoke with this week.

DVB began in 1992 as a radio station operating out of Oslo, Norway, with a rudimentary bureau in the Manerplaw region of Karen state. Since then it has gradually expanded, and in 2005 became the first non-state media group to broadcast television inside Burma.

Its work during the September 2007 monk-led uprising formed the focus of the Oscar-nominated Burma VJ documentary. The film depicted the risks involved in filming undercover in Burma at a time when the junta held a zero-tolerance policy towards independent media.

At one point, 17 video journalists working for DVB were in prison in Burma, some serving sentences of more than 60 years, but all were freed in an amnesty of political prisoners in January this year.

Aye Chan Naing said that despite the widely-lauded reforms of the new government, “quite a lot of things still need to be done”. In the Rangoon township he grew up in, “the life of normal people is not very different from 23 years ago, before we left”.

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